The seventh Open Innovations forum kicked off at the Skolkovo Technopark on Monday with expansive displays of innovative technology and international discussions on the transformative role of tech in areas ranging from transport and retail to agriculture and healthcare.

This is the third year in a row that Open Innovations has been held at the Skolkovo Technopark. Photo:

The first day of the three-day forum is devoted to education and personnel, and is subtitled “Manpower and Education.” This year’s event also includes a joint scientific conference organised by the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology (Skoltech) together with its long-term partner, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Skolkovo Foundation president Victor Vekselberg noted at the opening of the forum.

“The masters of this forum are innovative entrepreneurs,” said Vekselberg.

“Our task is to create all the conditions needed for it to be comfortable and easy for them to show off themselves and their product, find new investors and partners, and leave this forum feeling inspired and that they have the opportunity to be successful and self-sufficient,” he said, adding that about 250 startups were taking part in the forum.

“Create new things, meet people, be bold, and be very successful. You are really needed,” Vekselberg told the startups.

Skolkovo Foundation president Victor Vekselberg welcomes tech entrepreneurs to the Open Innovations forum. Photo:

Arkady Dvorkovich, the recently appointed chairman of the Skolkovo Foundation, who previously curated the project from the government's side as deputy prime minister, said the most important thing for Skolkovo now is to move from the strategic vision that already exists to continuing to make that a practical reality.

“It’s not chess,” said Dvorkovich, who was earlier this month elected president of the World Chess Federation (FIDE).

“It’s hard to move pawns, knights, queens and so on around the board, because each of these figures is independent, free and capable of acting without external orders or manipulations from a player. But so that everything comes together, to declare checkmate on the global market [by developing internationally competitive products], it’s crucial that an environment such as Skolkovo helps to spread best practices, and share the best ideas. I hope this forum will be a podium for a very serious game so that we can win,” said the former deputy prime minister.

Skolkovo Foundation chairman Arkady Dvorkovich. Photo:

Many of the sessions on the first day of the forum were devoted to the future of education, including one devoted to the use of AR, VR, AI, IoT and other technologies in education, and a plenary session titled “The Battle for Talent. Attracting and Retaining Human Capital in the Digital Era.”

Educating future engineers was in the spotlight at one of the first sessions that comprised part of the Skoltech-MIT conference, featuring Professor Edward Crawley, founding president of Skoltech and professor of aeronautics and astronautics at MIT. Crawley presented a new MIT programme, NEET (New Engineering Education Transformation), which he began upon his return to MIT two years ago.

“It’s a very simple idea: what we should be doing at university is preparing our students to build machines of the 21st century, the machines that they will build in the middle of their career, in the middle of the 21st century,” he told the conference.

“But if you step back a little, you realise that most of the education we present to them is organised around old machines,” said Crawley, showing a slide depicting a Boeing 747 (“it's made of aluminium, it's flown by a pilot and it burns kerosene”) on the left and a drone (“it's made of composites, is electric and is autonomous”) on the right.

“If you go to the department of aeronautics at MIT where I’m a professor, or to the Moscow Aviation Institute, which one of these machines are we preparing our students to build? Unfortunately, it’s the one on the left,” he said.

To tackle this disconnect, MIT’s new programme is built around four principles: new machines, ways of thinking (including experimental, creative, analytical and critical megacognitive thinking), discovering and making, and pedagogies for digital natives. Student input is vital to improving the educational process, noted Crawley.

Curricula are now more flexible with more elective elements, said the MIT professor, with four new threads offered: autonomous machines, living machines, clean energy systems and advanced materials machines. For each thread, there is a detailed plan of study. For example, on the autonomous machines programme, students would build a robot for autonomous navigation and manipulation in their first year, develop self-driving race cars in their second year, and build a swarm of autonomous systems in their third year.

Skoltech's founding president Edward Crawley spoke at the forum on how to give engineering students a suitably modern education that will still be relevant in the middle of the 21st century. Photo:

Crawley admits that despite these efforts, MIT does not yet have the key to teaching digital natives: people who have grown up using technology such as computers and smartphones on a day-to-day basis.

“Students representative of this generation are learning in entirely different ways than any of us who are older than, say, 30,” he said.

Forty-one million Americans are digital natives, said Professor Keith Stevenson, dean of research and director of Skoltech’s Center for Electrochemical Energy Storage, under the definition of a digital native as someone aged 15-24 who has been using the internet for at least five years. The country with the largest population of digital natives is China, with 75.2 million, while Russia comes in seventh place with 9 million digital natives.

The approach of Skoltech, a graduate research university set up in partnership with MIT, to offering its students a modern education is by emphasizing learning by doing, said Stevenson, a U.S. professor who moved to Moscow to work at Skoltech in 2014. New Skoltech students begin the year with the intensive month-long Innovation Workshop, in which they have to develop an idea for a company and produce a prototype product, so that students think in terms of applying their learning right from the very beginning, said Stevenson.

Innovations such as this exoskeleton designed by Skolkovo resident ExoAtlet that allows disabled people to walk again were on show throughout the territory of the Open Innovations forum. Photo:

Professor Evgeny Krouk of the Higher School of Economics said he was somewhat surprised to discover that the problems faced by Russia and the U.S. in terms of offering a modern education to engineering students did not differ at all.

New technologies require a “new” engineer, and the logic of the engineering process has changed, said Krouk.

In his day, “we studied a narrow field very closely and knew it very well. The digital economy works differently. Software allows you to make a lot of calculations,” he said.

Real projects – not just academic projects, but real ones with deadlines and responsibility – are important in the modern education process, as is employer participation, but there is no single solution to successfully adapt education models to future demands, he said.

Different models are needed, and this requires extra spending, said Krouk.

“And if you pay less today, it may become more costly tomorrow,” he cautioned.